Grant County Court voted to send a letter to the U.S. Forest Service in support of rolling back its prohibition against cutting down trees larger than 21 inches in diameter as the agency opens up a 30-day comment period on a proposal to remove the provision known as the Eastside Screens.
The 25-year-old provision prevents the logging of trees that exceed 21 inches in diameter at breast height in six national forests in Eastern Oregon and Washington, including the Malheur National Forest. It was adopted, at the time, as a temporary set of rules to protect streams, rivers and other wildlife habitat.
The 21-inch rule is now being reconsidered as overcrowding trees pose risks to wildlife habitat, according to a press release from the Forest Service.
Shane Jefferies, forest supervisor with the Ochoco National Forest, said in a press release that priorities have shifted in the 25 years since the 21-inch rule was put in place.
“Adjusting the 21-inch rule limitation to reflect the learning over the 25 years would help streamline restoration of forests in Eastern Oregon and make it easier to create landscapes that withstand and recover more quickly from wildfire, drought and other disturbances,” he said.
The proposed revision would make the rule into a guideline instead of the mandate that land managers and loggers must follow.
King Williams, a consultant with Iron Triangle Logging, said forest managers should use the best available science when working toward the goal of maintaining old and large trees that have visual characteristics that suggest an age of 150 years. He said the Malheur National Forest has been doing so through project-specific forest plan amendments.
“I would support changing from a standard to a guideline,” he said, but added the proposal in his opinion appears to be “ambiguous” and could be contentious.
He said a big problem in the past has been a lack of trust in forest managers. He said the Blue Mountains Forest Partners forest collaborative — comprised of loggers, environmentalists and Forest Service personnel — has been working to build that trust.
“I think they need to be more bold,” he said.
Grant County Commissioner Sam Palmer said many of the trees that loggers are prohibited from cutting are diseased, and he supports the proposal.